The Ongoing Search for Gratitude
I often go back to this moment: I am sitting outside on a sweaty summer afternoon. I have to be outside because the house has no air conditioning and the afternoon is the worst. My husband is at work, which means he’s gone for at least twenty-four hours and he’s left me alone with our two small children. One is four years old and feisty; the other, just a baby. I am learning that summer is the worst — no schedule and the overbearing heat are making every minute feel like a challenge. At this very moment, I feel totally alone.
So I do what most people do now when they feel loneliness: I pull out my phone and start scrolling. I get to a photo on Instagram that puts me over the edge. My friend has written again about gratitude, about how keeping a running list of gratitudes is helping her feel okay about her life. I take a deep breath and comment: Tell me more about this. I’m drowning and not finding any joy anywhere.
She emails me later and encourages me to start keeping a gratitude journal. It is nothing I haven’t heard before, but I am desperate, so I go ahead and start writing out things I am grateful for. Every day — one, two, three — they start piling up. Sometimes I share them online; other times I scribble them on bits of paper. Always thinking, There must be something here to be grateful for.
I had read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts a few years earlier. It’s the book that everyone points back to as the inspiration for keeping gratitude lists. Based on the concept of eucharisteo, a New Testament Greek word for being grateful, she kept an ongoing list of exactly that: what she was thankful for. When I read it I thought, That’s nice, and kept going on my merry way. I’m grateful enough. Things are okay.
And things were okay. They kept being okay, and I was living my life — sometimes flailing, sometimes flying. But the pile of responsibilities grew, as did my family and my career. Life was sometimes dark and lonely. I started taking pictures all the time, always searching for the beauty in my ordinary life. I took Cheryl Strayed’s suggestion to “put yourself in the way of beauty” very seriously and found that picking up my camera helped me see my own life in a new way. I was always on the hunt for light and for beauty. The more I looked, the more I found. It helped me fall in love with my life.
When I started to pair the photographs I was taking with words of gratitude, I found that it grounded me. It anchored me down to my own life, even when things were dark and hard. I could finally start to wrap my mind around what Paul meant when he wrote, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). If I looked for the light, if I looked for the good, if I looked for gratitude, I could find it. I could say thank you to God that He provides for me and sustains me, and I could keep moving forward.
November is just wrapping up, and with it comes the end of “gratitude month,” a concept of late that we should spend the entire month of Thanksgiving practicing thanksgiving. To me, an entire month dedicated to gratitude feels a little contrived but also absolutely necessary. On the one hand, shouldn’t every month be gratitude month? Shouldn’t we be focused on gratitude all the time? The simple answer is yes, but the complicated one is that sometimes it’s hard to be grateful for your life when you’re so busy living it. We need a reminder — a daily reminder, a weekly one, and maybe even an entire month dedicated to remembering that we have so much to be grateful for.
I know I need it. I need to enumerate the good things in my life. I need to lift my camera to my face in order to see the gratitude. I need to write about it every day and share it with whoever will listen. I need to look around and pay attention. I need to say thank you to my Creator, on good days and bad. I need to remember that life is a gift, a holy and precious gift, and even the most ordinary of lives and the most challenging of times are overflowing with beauty and goodness.
All photographs by Lindsay Crandall.